(OK, it took me 104 days)
My Yo-Yo Yoga Journey
When I was in high school, I was first introduced to yoga through an advanced dance course I was taking over the summer. This was a new group to me, and I entered the summer with trepidation but excitement for a new challenge with a new community of dancers.
Twice a week as a part of this program, we were expected to attend “yoga and conditioning.” These sessions last two hours, and consisted of untrained, older members of the dance team, probably no more than sixteen or seventeen years old, screaming at us to push harder into our splits and hold them for ten- and fifteen-minute stretches. I cried to my mom almost every time I had to go.
I realize, of course, that this is not actually yoga at all, but it was integral in forming my first opinions and perceptions of what yoga is and could be: painful, ineffective, something to be dreaded. I decided not to continue with the dance group at all once that summer was over.
The following year, the field hockey team at my high school recruited a new coach, and once again, yoga was forced on me in the heat of summer. It was Bikram Yoga this time, which requires sweating in a precise series of yoga poses for ninety minutes in a one-hundred-and-five-degree room.
Three times per week that July and August I woke before the sun to drive to Portland and enter a very distinct smelling room with my teammates and several other patrons – all of whom were much more serious yogis than we were. This experience was better for me, however. In that hour-and-a-half long session, I could almost feel my body growing stronger, leaner, and more limber. Either that or I was just sweating so much that the water weight I lost made me feel light, and the euphoria I felt afterward was really just a delirious state resulting from dehydration and inhaling whichever strange combination of essential oils and incense results in that very specific smell.
I did a few yoga classes in college, but never developed a specific practice. I took advantage of an unlimited monthly pass in Milwaukee that was severely discounted and started to go back to Bikram fairly regularly with the camaraderie and moral support of my roommate, Rachel. In between bouts of almost passing out in the first few classes, I remembered what I liked it about this particular practice the first time around, and I started to get into it again. A few short months later, we left Wisconsin and although I moved to Manhattan where the yoga options were endless, I never restarted my routine there.
It was seven or eight years more before I started doing yoga more consistently than an occasional class here or there. It was not until I was pregnant that I felt the barrage of resources and doctors encouraging gentle yoga for pregnant women. I decided to try to get into an at-home practice. It was lovely, but I was inconsistent with it, and I took it very, very easy on myself, not wanting to try anything new or difficult that might compromise my pregnancy in any way. I underestimated the strength and resilience of my body, and as a result I did not really embrace prenatal yoga in a way that could feel rewarding or even impactful.
After all of this yo-yo yoga-ing for more than a decade, I just didn’t understand the hype. I had convinced myself that it just “wasn’t for me,” and that I preferred a higher intensity of exercise. If I was going to spend thirty or sixty or ninety precious minutes “working out,” I justified, it better maximize caloric burn and make my muscles feel like overcooked spaghetti. Then the universe intervened. I was selected to attend a yoga retreat in the Berkshires, and I agreed to go while simultaneously rolling my eyes.
The course took place at Kripalu, a world-renowned wellness center, and I knew I would be crazy not to go and take advantage of this opportunity that was hand-picked for me by the universe. The course itself was called “RISE” – Resilience Training for the Workplace and it focused on evidence-based tactical techniques for developing resilience and managing stress. The science behind the lessons and the practical approach appealed to me. I drove on to the gorgeous grounds of Kripalu an anxious wreck, and I drove away already mourning the end of the experience. I was a convert.
Over the course of the week, and in addition to the seminar itself, I took various yoga and meditation sessions for four, six, sometimes eight hours per day. I ate delicious food prepared for me to perfectly optimize my mental and physical health, and I took a cooking course on how to prepare food in the Ayurvedic philosophy. I fell in love with Tulsi tea with fresh ginger. I took saunas and steam baths and hiked for miles alone in the silent snow without an audiobook to distract me from my thoughts. I received Shirodhara, an oil-dripping treatment for restoration, and to help with my insomnia. I took a dance class that made me cry.
I learned a lot about myself: about the strength in my vulnerability, about how to honor myself separate from being a mother and a business leader and a wife and a daughter. I learned that by changing my routines and how I feed myself (physically, mentally, and spiritually), I can live a life so fulfilling, it dwarfs my wildest dreams. The mental clarity I was able to cultivate that week was (and still is) astounding. The best part in my opinion, is that the design of the entire RISE experience is around providing real, practical things to bring back into your life, so that the lessons don’t have to end when you drive, so slowly and hesitantly, away from the breathtaking campus.
I decided I wanted to make yoga and meditation a priority for myself every day and that I wanted to take a leap that I had been considering for a long time: switching to a much more plant-based lifestyle for my family. I felt like the unexpected gift of this week of investment in my physical and emotional health finally gave me the tools to make some transformations in my life that I had been longing for, but for which I was previously unequipped. Shortly after I returned home, quarantine hit, and it felt like the permission I needed to continue my journey inward and focus on building the lifestyle that I was previously unable to grasp due to my refusal to just slow down.
As of today, I have completed 100 days of yoga at home.
Here is what I have learned so far.
Anyone can (and should!) do yoga.
Yoga is not a matter of access or disposable income or fitness level. If you have an internet connection and any type of internet-enabled device, yoga is a matter of choice. There are literally thousands of FREE yoga videos on YouTube, catering to all levels of practice. Simply search “beginner yoga” or “gentle yoga” and you will find hundreds of places to start. From the comfort and safety of your home, all you need is a place on the floor long enough to lay down. A yoga mat is nice, but if you do not have one you can use a towel or a blanket or a rug that is already there. It is also nice to do yoga outside if you have a deck, backyard, a park nearby or even a little balcony. No expensive leggings required, no reason to be intimidated by all the bendy, handstand-y fitness models that frequent your local studios.
Just open your laptop or prop up your phone and get to it.
I can do this. Every. Single. Day.
I have spent years reasoning away getting into a good fitness routine because I just “could not make the time.” As a working mom, I know that it feels that way for so many of us, and for good reason. Even before I was married, many of my working days involved getting up before the sun to drive three or four hours to a client, returning home well after dinner time and collapsing in a pile of exhaustion. These challenges are real and should not be discounted.
This time though, I decided to make it a priority at all costs, which often requires some creativity. Many of my yoga sessions include a toddler and dogs on the mat with me, on top of me, throwing toys at me, or screaming at me. Today I had a bag of plastic groceries dumped on my face before I even completed my first downward dog and continued on to incorporate approximately twenty-nine pounds of body weight into my bridge pose. My practice is far from perfect in this sense, but it is typically full of joy. For every imperfect pigeon or interrupted child’s pose, I get to incorporate animal noises into cat/cow, a silly song with each low boat, and a lot of giggles and belly kisses throughout. My daughter is cultivating a love and appreciation of yoga at an early age, which has been such a pleasantly unexpected consequence of my daily practice. She requests “O-Ga” every morning, gets excited when I pull out the mat, can imitate many of my poses with pride, and has already mastered a mean “lion’s breath.”
I try for a consistent morning practice but often end up fitting it in whenever I can between meetings and obligations to my family. I am easy on myself in this regard. Some days I double up. Some days I skip (hence needing one-hundred-and-four days to complete one-hundred days of yoga). Some days I find an easy session for cramps or anxiety, and they are glorious. Some days I want to challenge myself a little bit. Most sessions that I do are between twenty-five and thirty-five minutes long, but some days I can only fit in fifteen, and that is totally fine by me. Whatever I can squeeze in is better than nothing, which leads me to my next point.
Yoga makes a difference in every aspect of my life.
I first realized this about a month in when I missed two days of yoga in a row. I had finished a thirty-day challenge, took a day off, and then had a sick daughter the following day. I felt stressed and anxious, even when she started feeling better. I was irritable, impatient with my husband, and had trouble sleeping both nights. I was not very productive. My back was tight and my posture felt terrible. I did not make the connection between my overall “slump” and my break from yoga until I was back at it the next morning. Laying on the mat at the end of that practice, I felt like I was glowing. A dark, heavy, damp blanket had been lifted off me and I felt energized and capable. Matt and I discussed it over dinner that night; we both had become true believers that yoga impacts me as much off the mat as it does while I am practicing it.
As nice as it is having some extra muscle definition and feeling stronger and more flexible in my day to day activities, the most significant impact yoga makes for me is on my mental health. This is a lesson I could not have learned without experiencing it myself, because it feels like something someone says when trying to recruit you into a cult. But it was real for me… or maybe I am just trying to recruit you 😊
Yoga is not necessarily hard… but it ain’t easy.
As I mentioned, there are countless options for all levels of fitness out there (if you haven’t seen this video of someone who truly transformed their life with daily yoga, then take five minutes and watch it now, it’s amazing, despite the dramatic music) and while some online yoga classes may be more advanced or physically demanding, it’s pretty easy to either weed those ones out (if you prefer an easier pace) or modify whichever session you are doing to meet your physical limitations on any particular day. Doing these one-hundred sessions from my home actually gave me a ton of confidence because it completely eliminated the fear of failure and judgement that can get in the way of trying new things.
Even on the days when I opt for an “easier” practice though, I never know when I am going to be challenged in different ways. Some days a pose makes me feel strong and confident and the next day I cannot hold the same pose for more than a few seconds. Some days I am great at focusing on my breath and others I cannot stop my mind from wandering. Sometimes the instructor says just the thing I needed to hear at that exact moment, and I realize tears are dripping onto my bare feet. Yoga requires you to meet yourself wherever you are in any particular moment, on any particular day. It will never be the same, and that can be emotional, or frustrating, or calming, or healing. I never know exactly what I am getting into when I roll out my mat, and that makes me stronger and more resilient in all aspects of my life.
Yoga is a form of self-love, and a form of love for others.
This one sounds hokey, I know. But hear me out.
Showing up for yoga everyday is a way of reminding myself that I matter. The time I am taking, the progress I am making, the willingness to challenge myself to make myself better. It is a declaration: I am not just a mom. I am not just a worker. I am not just a wife. I am a being that matters separate from all the different roles I play in my life, and I am taking the time to honor that person right here, right now. In the same sense, I am also recognizing during this time that all people exist beyond the roles in which I cast them through my own limited view point, and so I am honoring them – each of you reading this – too.
OK, but if that last part was just too “out there” for you, here’s another way of looking at it: I am a better person when I am practicing yoga regularly (and meditating, but maybe that’s another post for another day). I am calmer and more rational. I am less quick to anger and more in control of my reactions. I listen better. I am grateful. I am aware. Because of this, I can serve all the roles I play to the best of my ability. I do not snap (as often) at my husband. I hear my colleagues out. I think more creatively and clearly. I make the effort to be more present in everything I do. This is a way of demonstrating respect for all the people in my life. This is love.
Now that yoga has become such a consistent part of my life and daily routine, I honestly do not know what I would do without it, and I do not plan on finding out anytime soon.